Madam C.J. Walker was an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist. She is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America; her fortune came by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the business she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
She was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana; she was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Sarah moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi after being orphaned at the age of 10 and worked as a domestic servant. She married Moses McWilliams in 1882 and had a daughter, A'Lelia. She remarried in 1894 to John Davis but left him in 1903. She then married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 and became known as Madam C. J. Walker.
In 1888, Madam C. J. Walker and her daughter moved to St. Louis working as a laundress. She suffered dandfruff and scalp ailments; this was common among black women of her era. She developed a line of hair care products in 1905, selling her products door to door. In 1908, Walker and her husband relocated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they opened a beauty parlor and established Lelia College to train "hair cultists." As an advocate of black women's economic independence, she opened training programs in the "Walker System."
In 1910, Walker relocated her businesses to Indianapolis, where she established the headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Walker later built a factory, hair salon, and beauty school to train her sales agents, and added a laboratory to help with research.
Walker was a prominent philanthropist and activist. She delivered lectures on political, economic, and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. Her friends and associates included Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W. E. B. Du Bois. During World War I, Walker was a leader in the Circle For Negro War Relief and advocated for the establishment of a training camp for black army officers. In 1917, she joined the executive committee of New York chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She died on May 25, 1919, from kidney failure and complications of hypertension.